- Eric Moreno
Dell Diamond – Round Rock Express
Photos by Eric Moreno, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00
Dell Diamond 3400 East Palm Valley Blvd Round Rock, TX 78665
Year Opened: 2000 Capacity: 11,631
Round Rock Express – Dell Diamond
Just a short, 20-minute drive from the Texas state capitol lies the city of Round Rock. Named for a unique round rock that was used as a landmark for settlers on the Chisholm Trail to cross the area’s Brushy Creek, the city has become a haven for those seeking to escape the hustle and bustle of nearby Austin. As the city grew, so too did its opportunities. Seizing upon those opportunities was one of the greatest athletes in Texas history, baseball Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.
In the year 2000, Ryan’s ownership group purchased and moved the Double-A Texas League’s Jackson Generals, and the Round Rock Express were born. They would move into their brand-new ballpark, Dell Diamond, that very season. The ballpark was an instant success with the fans and soon paid dividends for the team.
Five seasons later, the Express would make the leap up to Triple-A and the Pacific Coast League. Over the years the club has been the farm team for both the Texas Rangers and their current parent owners, the Houston Astros. Future All-Stars such as Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence, and Chris Davis have taken the field at Dell Diamond.
Roger Clemens and the legendary Billy Ray “Rojo” Johnson (you have to read his story) have also taken the mound there. Heck, it was even the site of an episode of Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie’s show The Simple Life back in 2010. Read on to learn what makes Dell Diamond my personal favorite minor league ballpark in America.
Food & Beverage 5
Let’s start with the food. Right off the bat, you’ll be able to find anything and everything you could possibly want in terms of food and drinks. From pizza and hot dogs to tacos and barbecue, to snow cones and milkshakes, Dell Diamond has it all.
Starting with the ‘cue, the ballpark has an outpost of the legendary Southside Market & Barbecue. The legendary pit outpost from Elgin, Texas has a stand at Dell Diamond serving up some of their famous smoked meats, including brisket and turkey platters, as well as chopped BBQ sandwiches.
For tacos, Rojo’s Southwestern Hideaway (named for the aforementioned Billy Ray “Rojo” Johnson) offers up taco flights (beef or chicken fajitas, carnitas, etc.), nachos, and more – including margaritas. When it comes to hot dogs – that most beloved of ball game dining options – you’ve got two distinct and delicious options: Fairlane’s and Frank’s. Fairlane’s is a ’50s themed diner that offers gourmet hot dogs named for the stars of the era. These include the Marilyn Monroe, a quarter-pound Nolan Ryan all-beef hot dog with neon green relish, red jalapeños, and cheese, and the Elvis, a banana “hot dog” wrapped inside a peanut butter bun and drizzled with honey.
The Coop & Kennel Pub takes the form of an Irish pub, and serves up some delicious looking fish and chips, grilled cheese hot dogs, and garlic fries. Also on site is Bahama Buck’s, serving a pared down version of their menu of signature sno cones, shakes, and shaved ices. These are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg; this is hands down the best food and drink selection at a minor league ballpark that I’ve seen to date.
The atmosphere at Dell Diamond is also one of the prime draws to the ballpark. Fans of any interest level, I think, will be drawn in by its charms. Right off the metaphorical bat, visitors are greeted by a statue of the team’s owner and namesake, Nolan Ryan – aka the Ryan Express.
The statue is just one of about a dozen photo opportunities that are set up throughout Dell Diamond – from the giant Nolan Ryan mural along the right center field wall, to the art in the left field concourses, to the Round Rock Hall of Fame beyond left center field, the photo ops are just a small part of the park’s overall charm.
Another highlight is the team store, the Railyard, located behind the first base dugout (there are also two other team store kiosks sprinkled throughout the ballpark) for fans looking to load up on their Express goods.
The ballpark itself has several design features that add to the viewing and game experience. These include the party patio, where fans can hold events (like birthday parties or corporate events) behind the third base concourse. This area is also home to the two-story Budweiser beer garden. Following the path down the third base line allows fans to get to the outfield lawn seating, as well as the double-decker home run porch, both of which are prime seating areas for Express games.
Along the outfield concourse back into right center is the Fun Zone, a play area for younger fans, complete with a climbing wall and an obstacle course, among other attractions. Adjacent to this is the Bullpen Bar and H-E-B Texas Backyard, which is where you’ll find the Round Rock Express’ pool and spa area. Up to 50 fans can watch a Round Rock game from the comfort of a full-sized swimming pool and hot tub, with complimentary food and drinks – on those hot summer days, it’s probably the best way to catch a game.
The only thing keeping this from being a 5 is the Central Texas sun! It can be pretty darn unbearable for day games from May through August. No matter how much charm a ballpark has, when the thermometer reaches 100 degrees, that’s what is called a distraction.
The city of Round Rock is a fast-growing one including a variety of attractions and activities. There are a ton of entertainment, dining, and lodging options for visitors to Round Rock, some even adjacent to the ballpark, which is extremely convenient.
Let’s start with what to do if you’re looking to spend a weekend in the city while you catch your Express game/games. Literally across the street from Dell Diamond is the relatively new Kalahari Resort. This family friendly, all-inclusive hotel/water park has quickly become one of the go-to places for families looking for a quick getaway. Folks can also go and not stay the night, but still take in the waterpark (the largest indoor park in Texas, according to their website) and other attractions, including the spa, restaurants, and adventure park.
Right next door to the ballpark is another of Round Rock’s gems, Old Settlers Park. This 645-acre park is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream, with over three miles of hiking/biking/walking/running trails, as well as football, baseball, softball, soccer, volleyball, and tennis fields and courts available to use. It is also home to the Rock ‘N River Waterpark, which is open from the spring through the summer months. There is also a brand-new playground for younger visitors; it’s a great spot to visit before a night game at Dell Diamond.
Let’s talk food. If you come to Texas, barbecue is what you’re after and for years, The Salt Lick in nearby Driftwood has consistently been ranked as one of the best spots for ‘cue in the state – and it is fantastic. These days there is a location – again – literally right next door to the ballpark, serving up their signature open-pit brisket, ribs (beef, pork, and bison, y’all!), and sausage. Words don’t adequately do justice to how phenomenal this barbecue is. If you’ve got time to stop in, I’d highly recommend it.
The same goes for my other recommendation and another of Round Rock’s signature landmarks, Round Rock Donuts. Founded in 1926, this is easily the most famous donut dinery in the state, and known for two specialty items in particular: their orange-glazed donuts (in honor of the University of Texas) and their 14-inch Texas-sized donut (either glazed, chocolate covered, or half-and-half). As someone who’s tackled – and attempted to tackle – the Texas-sized donut on several occasions, it is not for the weak of heart or stomach, but it is dang delicious (as are the rest of their confections).
The Round Rock Express have traditionally averaged around 8,000-9,000 fans per game by season, which is just around capacity for the ballpark. It is truly an event to go to the games in Round Rock, and fans show out. They are loud and supportive and have fully embraced this team. However, as mentioned, day games are going to be sparse during the summer. It’s just dang hot and you can’t blame folks for wanting to stay home rather than sit out in the 100-degree sun for hours at a time. My advice, if you want to catch a summertime game with a good crowd, head to a night game.
Getting to Dell Diamond could not be simpler – it is 20 minutes from downtown Austin and an hour and a half from San Antonio, both on Interstate 35, or it’s just over half an hour from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Once you get to Round Rock, signage clearly marks the way to the ballpark; it’s a short drive down Palm Valley Blvd/State Highway 79 to Dell Diamond from the city. Once you get to the ballpark, parking is ample and costs just $15.
Return on Investment 4
Single-game tickets for the Round Rock Express start at the bargain basement price of just $10 per person for some games. This is a really good price, especially for those bringing family to the game. With parking being the aforementioned $15, you’re already coming out ahead. However, where you might have to dip deep into your wallets and/or pocketbooks is at the concessions stands.
All that great food I mentioned above, while it doesn’t reach the lofty heights of Major League ballpark prices, is still a little bit above what I have seen for some other minor league stadiums. Still, it’s worth it; you get what you pay for, and that is all true at Dell Diamond.
Like all minor league clubs, the Round Rock Express pull out all their bells and whistles for fans – not only to get them through the turnstiles, but also to keep them entertained once they’re in their seats. Alongside the items mentioned in the Atmosphere section above, the Express have a lot more to offer fans at Dell Diamond.
Chief among them is their beloved mascot, Spike. Who doesn’t love a human-sized bulldog dressed up as a railroad conductor? He comes out throughout the game to interact with fans, and even takes time during the second inning to sign “pawtographs.”
Other Extras to be on the lookout for are the 50/50 lottery, which runs throughout the game, and the numerous contests the team pulls fans out of the stands for, including the Whataburger French fry toss. They also hold various theme days and nights, including firework Fridays, Kids Day Sundays, ‘80s Night, etc.
Dell Diamond is my favorite minor league ballpark to visit. Even though it is over 20 years old, everything still feels new. The best way I have to describe it is “first class.” From the food to the seating to the amenities, everything at Dell Diamond is first class. If you’re a baseball fan, Dell Diamond definitely needs to be on your bucket list of places to visit – I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
Follow Eric Moreno’s Stadium Journey on Twitter at @EricMoreno6477. Visit Eric Moreno’s writer’s portfolio site at ericmoreno.contently.com.